Album: Mogwai - Rave Tapes (Rock Action) *****
IT takes a special kind of musical talent to write and release even one album of almost exclusively instrumental music without boring everyone to tears.
That this is Glasgow-based Mogwai's eighth record of, mostly, sans-vocals music is in itself testament to their obvious genius.
And, once again, they've struck gold.
Sure, you know what to expect and really, there are no major surprises here.
But quite how they manage to stun, when you pretty much know what's coming, is remarkable.
If there's anything that makes this record stand out at first listen, it's a lack of anything much longer than six minutes.
One thing that that's always stood out on Mogwai albums is that gorgeous bass guitar sound.
Live, it's overwhelmingly loud and an all-out assault on the senses.
On record though, it rumbles gently through the speakers, full of texture and dripping in bassy goodness.
This is most evident on Simon Ferocious, where the bassline beautifully holds together a spacey ramble that threatens to explode in a trademark Mogwai finish, but never gets there ... and it's all the better for it.
Stunning simply doesn't do it justice.
Remurder comes across like a lost, remixed Depeche Mode classic - synth-fuelled and dark as hell. It could be the soundtrack to one of those awesome early 90s adventure video games.
The closest thing to a "normal" song on this brilliant album is Master Card which, like so many Mogwai classics down the years, seems to be begging for a vocal line.
But, once again, it's so engrossing as to soon make you forget all about the fact this is an instrumental.
Blues Hour begins gently and rises to a massive crescendo before falling back into that beautifully understated state of bliss.
That's what Mogwai do best, right?
Indeed, but this time there are some perfectly-placed vocals to add to the mix.
The same can be said for album closer The Lord Is Out Of Control, with its robotic voice guaranteed to make for an uneasy night's sleep should you listen directly before bed.
New release of the week? Hands down ... and made right here in our own Dear Green Place.
Album: Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Wanderlust (Douglas Valentine Ltd) ***
WHAT'S not to like about Sophie?
She's the pop star even your mum can like.
Never making a spectacle of herself or attracting the wrath of the easily-outraged brigade, yet somehow still having enough sass to be considered a bona fide pop icon.
Sophie's all right by us.
But there's something missing on this, her fifth album.
There's no Murder On The Dancefloor, no obvious hit single in waiting.
The Deer & The Wolf makes a decent fist of it, but it's just not memorable enough to do the job.
Sounding a little like Keane with it's lovely piano loop and also a little like a Lily Allen song with it's cocksure vocal delivery, it has something.
But not enough.
Young Blood is a beautiful ballad, but there is no real energy to set it apart.
Love Is A Camera is the oddest track on offer here, sounding like something cut from the soundtrack of failed musical.
It's all over the place, without ever really knowing where it wants to end up.
This isn't a bad record as such, it's just missing a spark. And in today's saturated pop market, a spark is surely the vital ingredient.
If you like the sound of Mogwai and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, check out Stef Lach's Spotify playlist for this week - a selection of tracks from similar artists to those featured in this week's reviews.
Like Mogwai? Check out...
The Gush - You Already Know
The Circuitry Of The Wolf - Mew
We Are - Karnivool
Like Sophie Ellis-Bextor? Check out...
I Am Sorry - Martha Wainwright
Where The Wild Roses Grow - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, featuring Kylie Minogue
Itchycoo Park - M People